Judge Temporarily Halts Fracking Permits in North Carolina

frackingrulesRALEIGH-  A judge has ordered North Carolina not to issue any fracking permits until the state Supreme Court rules on a legal question about how state panels are formed.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens’ decision earlier this month delays the proceedings in a case by environmental groups that argues the state’s Mining and Energy Commission was formed in violation of the state constitution.

The preliminary injunction temporarily prevents the commission from accepting or processing applications for hydraulic fracturing drilling units.

Stephens writes that the state’s high court is expected to rule later this summer on a separate case that depends on a similar legal question about how state panels are formed.

The Southern Environmental Law Center said Wednesday that the ruling will halt environmental harm from fracking.

 

– Associated Press

Capital Tonight May 19: Home Aesthetics Bill

capital_tonight_19jpgOn Capital Tonight: A bill aims to change what standards for houses municipalities can require. We hear from the NC League of Municipalities and the NC Homebuilders Association. Our Insiders Chad Adams and Morgan Jackson look at the politics of the House budget proposal. Watch the program here.

NC House Rolls Out State Spending Proposal

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Read the House budget proposal here.

WAKE COUNTY — The state House has rolled out its full proposal for state spending over the next two years. That plan includes pay raises for state employees and money to help keep the film industry in North Carolina.

“We believe we have a budget that is responsible and that really goes out and meets the needs,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, Wake Co.

The state House head budget writer says he believes his team has put together a spending plan proposal that will meet the needs of most North Carolinians.

On Monday, the appropriation chairs released a draft proposal for the state spending plan. That plan includes across the board two percent pay raises for state employees and teachers.

“We’re very happy about it, and we’re happy to see that there is a two percent pay increase in the budget. We would just like to sweeten it a little bit more,” said state employee Doranna Anderson.

In addition, the House is fulfilling its commitment to bring starting teacher pay up to $35,000 and provide $65 million to move the newly created teacher pay scale forward meaning some teachers could see an increase of greater than two percent.

“We want the highest level professionals in our classrooms, teaching our children, and the highest level professionals providing services for our citizens,” said Rep. Dollar, Wake Co.

For their part, educators say at first glance this budget does not go far enough saying:

“One of the most immediate impacts we can have on student success is to recruit the best teachers and to keep them in the classroom by making a long-term commitment to paying them as professionals, and the starting point should be at least the national average…”

Also in the budget is money aimed at bringing jobs to the state by extending tax credits for solar energy projects, data centers and research and development, funding for previously House-approved job development incentive grants and a $120 million in film grants.

“View of the House leadership was looking to invest in areas where we would like to be able to keep that industry, but some advocates say there is too much priority in this proposal on tax breaks to big businesses,” said Rep. Dollar.

“Largely due to recent tax cuts here in North Carolina, we find ourselves in a situation where we have drastically reduced the level of revenue that is coming in and that is being reflected in the budget that we are now being presented with,” said Cedric Johnson, NC Budget and Tax Center.

This budget proposal will now go before the House budget writing committee on Tuesday, where members will have the chance to offer any amendments to the spending plan.

– Loretta Boniti

SC Sen. Graham to Soon Announce Presidential Plans

lindsey_grahamCHARLOTTE — The 2016 presidential race could soon include South Carolina’s Senior Sen. Lindsey Graham. He went on national television Monday morning and said he’ll announce on June 1 his plans for 2016.

Some of his answers to a few questions strongly suggested he is running for president. To a question about other Republican candidates who’ve declared already, he said, “I’m running because of what you see on television. I’m running because I think the world is falling apart.”

He continued, “It is my ability in my own mind to be a good commander-in-chief and make Washington work.”

Political science professor at Winthrop University Scott Huffmon said some candidates build up suspense around their official announcements on purpose, so they raise money without restrictions.

He explained, “So before you officially declare, you can coordinate with political action committees, 501(c)(4) organizations. Once you officially declare, you can no longer officially coordinate with them. They are the entities that can raise unlimited funds on your behalf.”

But for Graham, Huffmon said it could be a different campaign strategy.

“That’s to continue to keep his name relevant. Making sure that all eyes remain on him or at least in the peripheral vision.”

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have officially announced their bids for the White House. The Republican field of officially announced candidates is larger, with Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee.

– Yoojin Cho

Capital Tonight May 15: State Treasurer Janet Cowell

cowellOn Capital Tonight: State Treasurer Janet Cowell joins us to talk your retirement accounts, the state’s bond rating, and why she is not running for the US Senate in 2016. Watch the program here.

Capital Tonight May 14: House Budget Released

c_tonight_514_jpgOn Capital Tonight: The state House begins releasing its budget proposal. We get reaction from House Majority Leader Mike Hager and House Minority Leader Larry Hall. Plus, who will Democrats recruit to run against Sen. Richard Burr in 2016? We ask Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett. Watch the program here.

Duke Energy Officials Plead Guilty to Environmental Crimes

coal_ashGREENVILLE, N.C. — Duke Energy has pleaded guilty in federal court to environmental crimes and has agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution over years of illegal pollution leaking from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

The company’s plea to nine misdemeanor counts involving violations of the Clean Water Act was part of a negotiated settlement with federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors say the nation’s largest electricity company engaged in unlawful dumping at coal-fired power plants in Eden, Moncure, Asheville, Goldsboro and Mt. Holly.

The investigation into Duke began last February after a pipe collapsed under a coal ash dump at the Eden plant, coating 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. However, prosecutors said that Duke’s illegal dumping had been going back for years, to at least 2010.

Duke has said in statements and court filings that the costs of the settlement will be borne by its shareholders, not passed on to its electricity customers.

Environmental groups hailed the charges as vindication for their years of efforts to get regulators to hold Duke accountable for the pollution leaking from 32 coal ash dumps at 14 power plants scattered across the state. The ash, which is the waste left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains such toxic heavy metals as arsenic, selenium, chromium and mercury.

The Associated Press reported last year that environmental groups tried three times in 2013 to sue Duke under the Clean Water Act to force the company to clean up its leaky coal ash dumps. The groups said they were forced to sue after North Carolina regulators failed to act on evidence conservationists gathered of ongoing groundwater contamination at Duke’s dumps.

But each time, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the act to take enforcement action in state court.

The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who worked at Duke for 29 years, then proposed what environmentalists derided as a “sweetheart deal” under which the Charlotte-based company worth more than $50 billion would have paid fines of just $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater leeching from two of its plants. That agreement, which included no requirement that Duke immediately stop or clean up the pollution, was pulled amid intense criticism after the Dan River spill.

– Associated Press

 

Capital Tonight May 13: Employment Security Chief Dale Folwell

bowling_pin_13_jpgOn Capital Tonight: Assistant Commerce Secretary Dale Folwell brings his bowling pin to show how the state knocked out its $2.5 billing unemployment debt. Our Advocates Cash Micahels and Rick Henderson debate why North Carolina keeps losing to South Carolina in economic development. Watch the program here.

Auditor’s Report Shows Millions Wasted in DHHS Medicaid Management Department

DHHS_medicaidRALEIGH – A special investigation of the Office of Medicaid Management Information Systems Services within the Department of Health and Human Services revealed OMMISS wasted at least $1.6 million through excessive wages and commissions, unjustified overtime and holiday pay to temporary employees over three fiscal years.

According to the report, the director engaged in or allowed nepotism by employing at least 11 separate groups of family members, including her family members and at least 15 individuals with personal connections to her. At least seven of them were not qualified and/or received unjustified pay rates.

The director also received more than 2,000 compensatory hours despite a position reclassification that prohibited her from earning compensatory time. Those hours  may have resulted in increased retirement benefits.

Monthly reports submitted to the General Assembly were found to have omitted at least $260,000 of overtime and compensatory time worked and paid on the Medicaid Management Information Systems replacement project.

Read the full report: http://www.ncauditor.net/EpsWeb/Reports/Investigative/INV-2015-4400.pdf

Capital Tonight May 12: National Pollster Kellyanne Conway

captonight512_pngOn Capital Tonight: National conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway gives us a look at the national presidential landscape. We also talk with North Carolina hospital CEOs about potential legislation from the General Assembly could affect the state’s hospitals. Watch the program here.